The Big Thing That Most DJs, Producers, and Promoters Get Wrong

Becoming a DJ, producer, or promoter is easy.

Now, I should explain myself before the mobs show up with their pitchforks.  Let me elaborate.

To DJ, you need to play pre-recorded music to an audience.  To produce, you need to combine sounds in order to produce an end product.  To promote, you need to be put in charge of planning an event and attempt to get people to attend it.  When explained at their most basic levels, there is no rocket science involved.  So why do so many people get it wrong?

Of course, you know as well as I that there is way more to it.  What's hard is being a DJ that stands out amongst a sea of other DJs and builds a following.  What's hard is being a producer who creates music that is so good, people will seek it out.  What's hard is being a promoter that knows how to throw events that provide an enjoyable overall experience… for a crowd large enough that it turns a profit.

The Thought Process That Screws It All Up

We all know that the music industry is a much different animal than it was 30, 20, 10… heck, even 5 years ago.  The role of the music label is somewhat construed and ambiguous.  Music can be acquired for free or cheap, completely on a whim, from anywhere, using pretty much whatever device happens to be in their pocket or on their lap.  Music can be created, start to finish, using devices that we in the free world already have.  There is very little cost of entry.

We've been participating in this scenario for long enough now to realize that “if you build it, they will come” is a largely outdated model.  A new era requires a new world-view when it comes to media distribution, return of investment, and what it is that we value about people's art.

So, here's where most people get it wrong.

The industry standard process seems to be well described by a quote by Wayne Gretzky: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

This is a great quote when applied correctly, but I think this can also be a dangerous approach.  For many, it's like they are playing a guessing game… trying to figure out what the next big “sound” is going to be, or who will be the next big artist to blow up.  The problem with this is that you're looking where everyone else is looking, instead of building your own small empire based on what it is that YOU want to do, the music YOU want to make, or the sounds YOU want to support.

Niching Down

How many times have you heard (or said), “(x) just can't work in my town”?

How many of those statements have you actually verified?

Personally, I tend to focus on the fairly deep and underground side of dance music.  And in my hometown, that was the complete opposite of what I used to hear any time I went out.  It's pretty natural to start worrying that you're either going to have to compromise and sell-out in order to get gigs/sell tickets, or play what you love to an audience of one in your spare bedroom.

It took me a while to realize that “nobody's doing it because nobody's doing it”.

Let's consider one of the biggest underdog stories of all time: Apple Inc.  They didn't get to where they are by jumping on bandwagons and trying to outperform their competitors in their own game.  They invented their own rules, based on what they believed in.  But, believe it or not, it didn't happen overnight.  They didn't just wake up one day, invent the iPhone, and rule the world.  They were the “underground” of computing for my entire childhood.  They did what they were good at, what they believed in, and struggled.  Steve Jobs was once a starving artist.

In other words, it's unlikely that anyone would give a rat's ass about Apple now if they had decided back in the 80s to be yet another manufacturer of generic IBM/PC clones, for as cheap as they could afford; because industry standard, open-architecture computing was “the way of the future”.  There may have been a lot of truth in that way of thinking.  But zillions of other companies were thinking the same thing.  Companies which you've probably never heard of.

Apple instead, said, “We think that computing should work this way, that there's a lot of benefits to a closed ecosystem, and that there are a lot of people out there that feel the same way even if they're not the majority.”  Turns out, they were massively correct… and that people were willing to pay a premium for it.

Apple didn't care what did or didn't work currently in their “town”.  They showed a smaller demographic a different way.

Establishing Authority

Imagine that you want to start a small business selling widgets (meaning, some fictional item).  But guess what?  Acme Widget Co., the biggest widget producer in the world, is a multi-billion dollar company with a massive staff.  They sell millions of red widgets every month, because red widgets are what sell the most.  The approach that many small businesses take is to also sell red widgets, because the market research has already been done for them.  Red widgets sell.  There is existing social proof.

The successful small business owner realizes that while red widgets make up most of the pie, you can get a bigger slice by selling blue widgets to the blue widget demographic.  There are less people there, sure.  But you get them all.  Nobody else bothered with blue widgets, because they “just don't work in the marketplace”.  You don't care about this.  You love blue widgets, and you're willing to bet that there are other people out there who wish they could get them.

Guess what?  Now you're the go-to guy for blue widgets.  You're the expert.  You're known for something.  A smaller demographic is giving all their attention to you, instead of a larger one ignoring you.

Obviously, it's not as simple as “do something different and they will come”, either.  Nor does that mean that one cannot be successful by dominating in a larger market or niche.  But getting past the idea that you have to be on the forward edge of the latest trend or fad in order to have success is essential.  It's not that to do otherwise is to sell out.  In many cases, it's just flat-out bad business.